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Bluebird, Bluebird Hardcover – September 12, 2017
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"A quick course in plotting and nimble characterizations rooted in a vividly evoked setting"―Nicole Lamy, New York Times Book Review
"An emotionally dense and intricately detailed thriller, roiling with conflicting emotions steeped in this nation's troubled past and present. . . . A rich sense of place and relentless feeling of dread permeate Attica Locke's heartbreakingly resonant new novel about race and justice in America. . . . Bluebird, Bluebird is no simple morality tale. Far from it. It rises above "left and right" and "black and white" and follows the threads that inevitably bind us together, even as we rip them apart."―James Endrst, USA Today
"Gripping, suspenseful and gut-wrenching . . . I've never bought the notion of the Great American Novel. I think when literary historians look back, they'll realize this time had many, but if Attica Locke's Bluebird Bluebird isn't on the list, I'm coming back to haunt them. . . . This is a layered portrait of a black man confronting his own racial ambivalence and ambition told with a pointed and poignant bluesy lyricism. . . . Locke's novel is America 'telling on itself.' Listen up."―Carole Barrowman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Attica Locke's terrific Bluebird, Bluebird (Mulholland) simmers with racial tensions . . . a story told with Locke's crystal-clear vision and pleasurably elemental prose."―Seattle Times
"In Bluebird, Bluebird Attica Locke had both mastered the thriller and exceeded it. Ranger Darren Mathews is tough, honor-bound, and profoundly alive in corrupt world. I loved everything about this book."―Ann Patchett
"Few contemporary writers have portrayed black Southern life with as much wit and heart-pounding drama as Attica Locke. . . . A dazzling work of rural noir that throws into question whether justice can be equally served on both sides of the race line."―Amy Brady, Los Angeles Times
"Locke pens a poignant love letter to the lazy red-dirt roads and Piney Woods that serve as a backdrop to a noir thriller as murky as the bayous and bloodlines that thread through the region. . . . Locke shows off her chops as a superb storyteller. . . . She is adept at crafting characters who don't easily fit the archetypes of good and evil, but exist in the thick grayness of humanness, the knotty demands of loyalties and the baseness of survival. Locke holds up the mirror of the racial debate in America and shows us how the light bends and fractures what is right, wrong and what simply is the way it is--but perhaps not as it should be."―Jaundréa Clay, Houston Chronicle
"Powerful . . . Locke is a master of plot who's honed her craft. . . . The deepest pleasures to be found in Bluebird, Bluebird, though, are in her renderings of those who've loved and lost but still want to believe in the world's benevolence."―Leigh Haber, O., The Oprah Magazine
"I've never bought the notion of the Great American Novel. I think when literary historians look back, they'll realize this time had many, but if Attica Locke's"Bluebird Bluebird" (Mulholland) isn't on the list, I'm coming back to haunt them."―Carole E. Barrowman, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
About the Author
Attica Locke is the author of Pleasantville, which won the 2016 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction and was long-listed for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction; Black Water Rising, which was nominated for an Edgar Award; and The Cutting Season, a national bestseller and winner of the Ernest Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. She was a writer and producer on the Fox drama Empire. A native of Houston, Texas, Attica lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband and daughter.
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There are elements of this novel that reminded me of John Grisham’s A TIME TO KILL, although Locke’s story is less about the murders (or the mystery) than it is about the characters. Darren was born and raised in Texas, and he resents the state’s image as the home of white supremacists and racist rednecks. He is proud of his position as a Texas Ranger, and prouder still of his efforts to protect disenfranchised black Texans and fight the Aryan Brotherhood. He has a wife who wishes he’d turn in his badge and go back to law school, and he’s torn between his love for her and his passionate commitment to justice. He was raised by two uncles, one (a police officer) believing that “the law would save us by protecting us,” and the other (a lawyer) believing that “the law is a lie black folks need protection from.” When Darren arrives in Lark, his assumption is that the two murders are both connected and racially motivated. And when he runs up against an uncooperative white sheriff and a rich white local who owns most of the town, the truth gets harder to unravel. It quickly becomes clear that “justice was messier than [he] realized when he’d first pinned a badge to his chest.”
Another fascinating character is Geneva Sweet, who owns the only café in town where black people can feel comfortable eating. Her story is a compelling one, reflecting what it’s like to live in a place where race is always front and center. We learn more about Geneva slowly, as Darren gets closer and closer to what really happened – not only to the two bodies that washed up behind Geneva’s café, but to her husband and son. She’s a strong character, a woman with enough backbone to stand up to the rich white guy who’s been trying to get his hands on her café for years. And she becomes the focal point of both the town and its story.
I liked reading BLUEBIRD, BLUEBIRD. Locke writes in such a way that the setting of her story becomes palpable, even to readers like me who have never spent time in rural Texas. I could feel what it must be like to be in this little town, eating barbecue and fried pies at Geneva Sweet’s café, drinking whiskey at the all-white icehouse down the road, and always watching my words for political implications. It’s a lyrical, down-home environment that’s as scary as hell.
If you’re looking for a fast-paced thriller, this probably isn’t the one. The murders, and the mystery, just aren’t front-and-center enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. But if you like slow-building character-based stories that are intimately engaging, BLUEBIRD, BLUEBIRD won’t disappoint. I will warn you that this is the first of a planned series, meaning the ending is designed to set up the next book. It isn’t a huge problem – the story of Lark and its murders is definitely wrapped up – but it does leave you hanging a bit. Even so, I do recommend this novel. It’s a really good read.
Although the story thins out in some parts and some characters behave in foolhardy ways difficult to credit, if you want to know what it feels like to be a Black man walking into a roadhouse somewhere amid the bayous of East Texas, where no man is your friend, read this book.
"Empathy," according to the dictionary, is the "... vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another," i.e. what all novelists seek to create. In Bluebird, Bluebird, Ms. Locke succeeded in transporting this white, middle class reader into the shoes of a Black man compelled by both his job and his moral instincts to confront virulent racial hatred. Her protagonist is no super hero.